"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

The Herb Lady and Me

by Julie Tilsner on August 8, 2007

in Good Ideas Gone Bad, Snacks & Sides

It’s summer. The mind turns to fruity things, yummy and refreshing. I wish I could make such things myself. But usually, I make do with a Popsicle.

The herb lady gave me this recipe the other day at the Farmer’s Market. I like to linger around her stall because it smells so good and electrifies me with potential. Fresh mint! Bay leaves! Thyme! Rosemary! All the usual suspects, but many I’ve never seen or heard of before. Like lemon verbena. It was the most intoxicating aroma on her table; long twigs with small green leaves and little white flowers, tied together in bundles. It begged to be picked up and fondled.

When I’m at the herb table, all is well with the world. But I fear I am a mere hanger-on. I want herbs in my life. But I don’t know how to use them to their full advantage. Since each bundle on the herb lady’s table is only $1, I often buy several bundles, and take them home, feeling righteous, and ready to flavor soups and season meats and infuse butters and do all manner of Martha Stewart-type feats I really have no business even considering. But no matter. I have the best intentions. And my herbs will make my car smell like Italy and my kitchen like France. They then proceed to wilt on the counter or slowly freeze to death in my refrigerator, because not only do I not know how to use them, I don’t know how to keep them, either.

I said as much to the herb lady. She handed me a slip of paper that said,

Peel and quarter four or five white or yellow peaches in a medium bowl. Add 20 lemon verbena leaves and 15 mint leaves (chopped). Add one tablespoon of sugar, and mix lightly. Cover and let chill. Use on ice cream or simply on its own.

Well that sounded easy!  So I bought seven white peaches from the lady at the next stall, bought a bundle of mint to go with my lemon verbena, and took the lot home, along with good local honey (sage!) and four chicken tamales from the best tamale makers in the known world, Gourmet Tamale Co. (for use as backup in case my paella didn’t turn out.)

I took it all home. I got out my lovely coral Bauer bowl and skinned and quartered those peaches, feeding the remaining two to the nits to make them happy and keep them quiet. I picked the correct number of leaves off the herbs, but wondered if I needed to chop them both, since the recipe said chopped only after mint. And if so, how small were we talking about? I decided it didn’t matter too much, and chopped everything up with kitchen scissors. I added the sugar. I mixed lightly, covered with tinfoil (wondering, should I cover with plastic wrap instead? Do such things make a difference on flavor?), and let the whole concoction chill overnight.

I imagined this would turn out to be some delightful, subtly-flavored summer treat. I imagined how it would look gracefully dolloped over a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. I imagined my kids clamoring for more. This was the sort of simple but clever thing Christina Bess would throw together off the top of her head. And if she’d made it, it would have surpassed all my expectations.

Except that I made it. And when I brought the bowl out and uncovered it, my peaches were cold, slimy, and going brown at the edges.

That didn’t stop me from sampling, however. The peaches were tasty, of course. But the sugar didn’t do anything to make them better than they already were. And the chopped leaves…well, you had to pick them out of your mouth, like seeds.

Another deceptively simple recipe. Clearly there was something missing. Some step, some bit of information that everyone knows and finds obvious except for me. What could it be?

The kids would not eat this. I didn’t even mention it to them. There were still Popsicles in the fridge, after all.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

LH August 8, 2007 at 8:57 pm

Well, I wouldn’t have let the fruit chill overnight – but other than that, no idea what went wrong. I think “simple” recipes like this are designed for people who have taste buds as finely attuned as dog ears to the higher things in life. Me, I’ll take a popsicle, or a rum n’ raisin ice-cream, over this any day of the week . . . I’m just sayin’.


Mr Squid August 10, 2007 at 4:13 am

The recipe sounds really good. I am a big fan of peaches. The farmers market comes by my work on Thursdays. If they have any lemon verbena (or if I make a trip to the local Safeway soon) I will give it a try. My kids will be back with Mom next week, so no-one will know if I screw it up…


Stafford August 12, 2007 at 3:34 am

Simplicity is the key, but I rarely succeed where simplicity is the key. That whole taste thing is befuddling to me, which is why I often cook recipes with layers of flavors (Tabouli, Curried Lentils, Black Beans with Smoked Turkey Wings, Etc). Of course anything I cook, I will eat, and take to work for lunch everyday until it is gone, cause I’m Cheap!


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